Kolkata: For every Indian sports lover, cricket has always been a major part of their discussions. And why not? With the big names and the big records, the sport is held equal to a religion in India. But if there’s another global sport that slowly gaining it’s ground and strengthening it’s roots among the youth in India, it has to be tennis. And competitions like the AITA Super Series Junior Tennis Tournament does a world of good for those people who are interested in taking up tennis as a future prospect.
An initiative of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) this tournament has been played since as many as 18 years from which names likes Yuki Bhambri, Vipin Sinha, Sk. Abdulla and Sumit Nagal have emerged, who have represented India at levels of high stature.
Akhtar Ali, former Davis Cup player and Indian National Davis Cup coach has played a pivotal role in the progress of this competition and has been primarily focused on the involvement of the youth in the development of tennis in the country. He has been operating as the director of this tournament since it’s inception.
In a press conference at the Calcutta Sports Journalist’s Club, the 19th edition of the tournament was launched in the presence of Akhtar Ali, (director of the tournament), Joy Mukherjee (the tournament director), Jaffer Javed (assistant director) and Nilofer Ali, who happens to be an important figure in the management and organisation of this tournament. Nilofer, also happens to be Akhtar Ali’s daughter.
The competition squares off from the 20th of February and is set to continue till the 25th of the same month. More than 200 applicants from more than 10 states have applied for participating in the tournament. The qualifiers of the tournament will be held on Saturday, the 18th and Sunday, the 19th, and the main draw is going to begin from Monday, the 20th.
There would be a system of wildcards in the qualifiers but the same wouldn’t happen in case of the main matches. The main categories where the players would compete include- U-14 Boys and Girls(singles), U-16 Boys and Girls(singles), U-14 Boys and Girls (doubles) and U-16 Boys and Girls (doubles).
A total of 32 players from each category from the qualifiers would make it to the main draw. The main matches would be played employing a system of rounds- in the first round, there would be 16 matches among the 32 players from where, there would emerge 16 winners. The second round would have 8 matches involving the 16 players from the last round, and this round ends with 8 winners, who would proceed to the next round to play 4 matches, leaving back 4 winners. The fourth round or the semi finals would consist of 4 matches out of which the victorious two would go to play the all important final of the tournament on the 25th of February.
The winner of this tournament would be rewarded with 50 ranking points, the runners-up with 40, the semi-finalists with 30 , the quarterfinalists with 20 points. The pre-quarter finalists would be awarded with 10 points each and the eliminated players from the first round would get 5 points each.
The participating players in the qualifiers would get a solitary ranking point each .The prize distribution ceremony is too scheduled to take place on the day of the final and the occasion would see the presence of the Sports and PWD(Public and Welfare Development) minister of West Bengal- Arup Biswas along with other dignitaries.
A man of soft-spoken disposition, Akhtar Ali was the first person to start this tournament in Kolkata so that the Bengal players do not have to travel to far- off places in different states to compete. The man, who still has an undying love for tennis, was also proud of the fact that it was his family that has been instrumental in promoting this competition among the youngsters and working hard for the development of game in the country. He said, ” It is a very good opportunity for the players, especially from Bengal who earlier had to travel to Delhi or Mumbai to participate in this tournament. Now, they can do the same in their own state.”
“This tournament has become more of a family affair for me. No other tournament is arranged by an entire family like this” said a grinning Ali.
The assistant director Jaffer Javed, who happens to be Ali’s grandson too has an affirnity towards the sport and said, “This is an opportunity for youngsters to boost their rankings and qualify for the junior Davis cup.” An exciting young man, Jaffer went on to say that cricket has , “taken away” the limelight from tennis. Taking a cue from what his grandson said, Akhtar said that cricket cannot be “touched by any other sport” in terms of popularity but, they were working hard for the improvement as well as development of tennis.
Jaffer also said, ” Top coaches and players participate in this tournament and it is beneficial for players of the seventh, eighth and ninth rank, who would get a direct 50 or 40 point boost making them qualify for the junior Davis cup and the Federation Cup.”
On asked about the favourite to win this tournament, Jaffer said “Rhythm Malhotra from Delhi is a favourite to win this if he participates. He has a good chance of participating as well.” He further added, ” Winners of this tournament like Yuki Bhambri, Vipin Sinha, among many others have also made it to the national Davis cup squad. Miraculously, winners of this tournament often go on to become members of the Davis cup squad.”
Joy Mukherjee, the referee of this tournament, when asked about the expansion of tennis through this iniative, said, ” For me, tennis is an education, a way of life. I would definitely like it to expand one day.”
Akhtar Ali concluded, ” Many top players who have played this tournament are now top ranked tennis players for example ,Karan Rastogi, who now plays in Hong Kong. This tournament is an effort to inspire youngsters to take up the sport.”
We hope that the efforts of Akhtar Ali and his family in promoting tennis in India bears fruit so that one day, it is spoken of on equal ground with other sports, like cricket.